Back in 2010, Dawnbringer’s fourth album Nucleus arrived on Profound Lore with a groundswell of acclaim. Given Profound Lore’s reputation for unnervingly consistent quality, and Dawnbringer mainman Chris Black’s impeccable pedigree in High Spirits, Superchrist, and paragons of American power metal greatness Pharaoh, there was seemingly every reason for me to join the throngs of adoring fans thrusting their crotches in a gleeful paroxysm of collective air guitaring.
So I got my grubby hands on it, and I listened, and I waited. Listened, and listened, and waited, and…nothing. Try as I might, I just couldn’t find the prime metal vitality that so many others were celebrating. Which is fine, of course – we can’t all dig on the same sounds – except that, for the life of me, I couldn’t really articulate why Nucleus left me so cold, and that, more than anything, is what became the major irritation.
The nearest I could come to explaining it was by concocting a far-fetched scheme to write a review of Nucleus in the form of a script for a long-lost episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (One at a time, ladies, please.) You see, as near as I could figure it, the problem with Nucleus was that the entire album felt too ruthlessly composed. Every note was laid out exactly in a very careful place, so that even as the album aimed for a freewheeling heavy metal classicism, it felt excessively mannered, almost polite.
My plan, therefore, was to draw an analogy to Commander William T. Riker’s luxuriant beard. A beard which, in all its potent contrast to Picardian cue-ball-ness, seemed to give the impression of a reckless, devil-may-care attitude; Riker the roué. In reality, however, The Beard was fastidiously trimmed and tidied, without so much as a single hair out of place; Riker the reticent, reluctant rogue. Well, friends, with the advent of Dawnbringer’s fifth album Into the Lair of the Sun God, I am delighted to report that Riker’s beard has really let itself go full-on mountain man. There’s food matted in the beard now, probably, but it’s delicious.
On the surface, there has been no major alteration to Dawnbringer’s sound, which is a liberally derivative blend of traditional heavy metal and NWOBHM. Chris Black’s vocals are the same polarizing, understated nasal croon, and his prominent bass playing still provides the dominant structure for most of the compositions. If any change can be heard, it might be that Into the Lair of the Sun God dips its quill even more gleefully in the fount of trad metal and hard rock classicism; the organ-backed stomp of “VI” has a distinctly Deep Purple vibe, “IV” is the most NWOBHM-sounding of the lot, and hark, what’s that? A laid back tempo? Balmily familiar chord progressions? Wistful harmonized guitar leads that ought to be properly viewed from a helicopter circling a field in which the guitarists play their guitars without amplification and yet summon all the earth’s electricity by the sheer force of their windswept, unbuttoned shirts? Yes, “V” is a moistened-cheek, beer-spilling, cry-on-your-dog’s-shoulder power ballad, and it kicks fucking ass so back off.
More to the point, the methodical care taken in Dawnbringer’s compositions actually works in the album’s favor rather than to its detriment this time, because the entire nine-song sequence builds and flows as a single narrative. The stop-time riffing of “II” leads perfectly into the classic thump and gallop of “III,” whose modally grooving outro neatly frames the first three songs as the album’s opening act. At the other end of the album, the moody trudge of “VII” marks a nice segue into the album’s more meditative, downcast closing, though the conclusion to “VIII” is another fantastic highlight, with Black’s furiously fluttering drum work and, one can only assume, nerve-pinching metal faces pulled all around.
Even if I’m still not entirely capable of verbalizing why Nucleus left me so cold, the fact that this new album has got my loins burning with the unquenchable fire of the lava giants renders all whining and sundry matters moot. Into the Lair of the Sun God is an endlessly thrilling document of the vital spark that animates everything good and honest and righteous about heavy metal, the kind of album that makes you want to take to your Wheels of Steel and barrel down the Manilla Road with all the other Killers and Bastards in metal and In Rock until you Blackout, and if you’re still not following me, that’s just fine because brothers, sisters, we are in this together. Your strength is my strength; we are Defenders of the Faith.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 42866.6: Where once Commander William T. Riker’s painstakingly-groomed beard provoked badly-stifled giggles at its pantomimed wildness, ever since it emerged from the lair of the sun god, a most genial change has transpired. As it so happens, Riker’s beard now lives in my mom’s garage, and the garage always smells a little funny, like whiskey and nylon and lightning, and when once I tried to bum some smokes from it, it looked me square in the eyes before staring hard off into the distance and muttering, “The real party is in your mind.” And, although I can’t be totally sure, I still swear that one time I saw the beard head into the garage with two girls, but when the girls emerged to leave in their disheveled bliss, there were three of them. Riker’s new beard is a tail multiplier; Into the Lair of the Sun God, a riff, lick, and hair-billowing-in-the-breeze, ear-to-ear-grinning guitar solo multiplier.
We are now on course to rendezvous with the Klingon vessel Cthul…oh shit, hang on. There’s Riker’s beard coming down the hall. Catch you later, log, I’m going to go see if it wants to jam.